Hungarian First Steps

Our first day in a country is usually marred by a little too much driving and a little too much expectation. We too acutely feel the full of weight of embarking on a new chapter in the trip. It can feel like the flip of an hour glass, making time feel finite and valuable, which is a terrible feeling to have when you're observing road work speed limits. I'm usually flipping through at least two different books, highlighting and asking questions like “how long does it take to walk 3 kilometers?” and “a town of 21,000 would probably have a laundromat, right?” The second day, we’re more or less settled and, feeling guilty about the unproductive first 24 hours, we do some sightseeing. So, today, we climbed the very pretty city of Eger’s very narrow Turkish minaret.
For a month in 1552, a ragtag group of 2,000 soldiers held off 10,000 storming Turks. This success means more for the folklore of the country (and, obviously, the city) than for the actual fate of history. Legends include women who poured boiling oil on enemies and men with beards stained with red wine. All sorts of fun stuff. However, the Turks revisited a few decades later and, this time, Eger fell. The minaret is the last remaining piece of architecture from the period of Turkish rule. It’s currently surrounded by murals done by school children, which portray the first, fabled fight. In the context of all this, I saw the minaret as the middle finger of their enemy, raised high to remind them what the final outcome was.
It was easily the most narrow staircase we’ve climbed – and we happen to be people that have never turned down an offer to climb a narrow staircase. Standing with both feet on a step, the walls grazed both of my shoulders. There was a fair amount of crawling on the ascent and the sound of our backpacks scraping against the walls. I'd say I was about the maximum size, sans backpack, for a n upright climb. So, if you're over 5ft 6in and more than 130lbs, it may be a squeeze. At first entrance, it was a welcome escape from the sun. About halfway up, Merlin asked, "Is it hotter in here?" Ninety-seven steep steps led to this door to the balcony.
There wasn’t much more room to maneuver once outside, but more light and more air. Which is always nice. Testament to the steepness, under 100 stairs had brought us much higher than we'd expected. Looking down over Eger, we saw a family of four taking pictures in front of the minaret. For a moment I thought, “Oh, I hope I’m not ruining their shot.” Then, I realized that if they were a beetle to me, I was probably no more than an ant to them. I'm not sure why, but when I see shadows like this, I always get the urge to wave my arms around and see if I can alter the silhouette.
The summer day played out below and around us. Ice cream cones, outdoor lunches, men in fluorescent construction overalls watering flowers. It must seems so strange to imagine us up there. Eger citizens must think it's so strange that on a day like, that really could have reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this was our chosen activity. That people like us pay to take an uncomfortable stroll up a stone relic instead of rambling through the park or garden for free. But, see, for us, the few minutes it took made us feel exceedingly accomplished. Physical exertion? Check. Cultural experience? Check. Historic research? Check. First blog post of the country? Check.
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